From the stack: Little Nothings

March 3, 2008

The thing about observational humor is that it all depends on the person doing the observing. Everyone has his or her own standards for who constitutes good company, and I can’t think of better than Lewis Trondheim, at least based on Little Nothings: The Curse of the Umbrella (NBM).

The one-page cartoons illustrating Trondheim’s everyday observations and encounters are really delightful – witty, astute, low-key, sweet, and polished, but never fussy. He doesn’t seem to be in love with the sound of his own voice, and he doesn’t abandon his instincts as a storyteller because the content is casual and unstructured. It’s just so perfectly in scale, and the ultimate effect is one of effortlessness.

It’s also gorgeous. Trondheim renders everyone as gently cartoonish animals, but his facial expressions are pricelessly on point. Watching exasperation, consternation, bemusement, shock and contentment light up his menagerie is a constant source of delight in miniature. Since many of the sequences focus on his travels, there are some gorgeously rendered settings as well. The use of color is remarkably rich throughout, whether Trondheim is rendering a castle in Scotland or just letting his beaky avatar pop out of the frame.

I just can’t say enough good things about this book. It’s charming, funny and sincere without being saccharine or remotely self-involved. There are plenty of cartoonists who have tried to strike this kind of personal, conversational tone, but I’ve rarely been so disappointed to see the conversation end.